It was reported in the media (for example click here) this week that Twitter is being sued for defamation for the first time under Australian law. The case arose after a Melbourne man, Joshua Meggitt, was wrongly accused and named by writer and TV identify Marieke Hardy as the author of a hate blog dedicated to her. Hardy wrongly named and shamed Meggitt as the ‘anonymous’ internet bully using the Twitter micro-blogging service (twitter.com). Whilst Meggitt and Hardy settled their differences out of court, it is Twitter that now finds itself the subject of court proceedings.
Under the Australian Defamation Acts (2006), defamation can occur where one person publishes content [words, sound, video, images] that damages the reputation of another identifiable person. Whilst Twitter states in its Terms of Service that “You are responsible for your use of the Services, for any Content you post to the Services, and for any consequences thereof” and that to the maximum extent permitted by law Twitter will not be liable for any damages resulting from any conduct or content that is defamatory, offensive or illegal (amongst other things), under the Australian Defamation Acts liability for a defamatory publication can extend to an organisation where the organisation is able to exercise control over a publication and there is a failure to prevent or terminate a defamatory publication by a third party. A publication can include for example a brand’s blog or Facebook page or as in this case, Twitter’s micro-blogging service.
It seems likely that in this case Twitter does have a case to answer and may eventually find itself at the wrong end of the court’s judgment. There is however every possibility that this case will settle before a judgment is rendered and the liability of sites like Twitter for defamation will remain untested under Australian law.
Regardless, this case is a timely reminder that brands need to be aware of what is being published by third parties on their blogs, forums and Facebook pages in order to avoid potential liability for defamation.
Here are some tips:
Only allow blog posts by identifiable registered users – so they can be tracked down in case a defamation proceeding is brought by an aggrieved person;
Have clearly stated community guidelines and netiquette outlawing personal attacks, vilification and defamation; and
Actively censor or monitor blog postings / comments and remove those that breach community guidelines or rules of the brand’s site.